Sunday, June 25, 2017

Past feeling and kicking against the pricks

In the past few years I've had opportunities from God to get to know and pray for and help several individuals. In some cases, the potential of these people has been revealed to me. I see how their lives would be lived if they leveraged all their character-building opportunities and saw things as they really are.

The potential of any person is incredible, and it is merciful of God to keep it hidden most of the time. If we knew our own potential, we would be overwhelmed and shut down. If we know the potential of others, we would be filled with indescribable sorrow by watching them fail to achieve it.

When God gives me these glimpses, it gives me strong motivation to continue to try to help an individual until they openly reject my association. I cannot verbalize the sorrow I've experienced in watching them walk away from such richness of opportunity. Here is a leap ahead handed to them on a golden platter, and they throw it to the pigs.

The key factor of these types of situations is that the individual does not recognize what they are being offered. What does this mean? It means I must do it, too.

Why are we all so clueless? Why don't we know about our potential and seek to achieve it? We don't want to be saved, we just want to be left alone.

How many people desire to acquire knowledge, knowing that it brings both joy and pain? How many people want to become better, when it must include having their limitations revealed to them?

We don't desire these things. Instead, we have a very narrow set of expectations, and we don't care that we have artificially left out all the trouble that goes with those expectations. We spin up cotton candy realities, and live in constant misery with the coping mechanisms that we've developed to keep the negative consequences of a life of ignorance behind the curtain. Pretending there is a wizard of Oz may enable us to live in the Emerald City, but it doesn't kill the wicked witch. To actually fix the problems requires more truth--it requires venturing out onto the yellow brick road, becoming a more capable person through overcoming challenges, and losing a great deal of innocence in our world view. It's not all negative. We become much stronger, more capable, and capable of experiencing much greater joy.

Do you always know what God’s will is?

Moroni taught that it is possible to discern between good and evil as easily as we can discern between daylight and night:

15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. (Moroni 7)

Here is a question: do you know what is good and what is evil as readily as you know day from night? Do you know God's will as clearly as you know the difference between day and night?

If Moroni is right, and you don't, what is missing?

"You may know" and "you do know" are two different situations. Moroni is saying it is possible. How do you get to that point? Better said, why are you not yet at that point? What is keeping you from it?

All truth is available.

The Amplified Translation of the Bible gives this version of John 1:1:

1 In the beginning [before all time] was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself.
2 He was [continually existing] in the beginning [co-eternally] with God.
3 All things were made and came into existence through Him; and without Him not even one thing was made that has come into being.
4 In Him was life [and the power to bestow life], and the life was the Light of men.
5 The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it [and is unreceptive to it]. (John 1, AMP)

All light and truth pertaining to this domain is always available. The Lord emits all light and truth through the universe. It is all there, all the time, whether you and I recognize it or not.

The veil isn't a sheet that is either rent or whole. Instead, it is layered. Truth is eternal, meaning progressively expanding forever as you learn more of it. It's like a flooded bank. As you acquire truth, the water recedes, and you see things about yourself, the world, and the gospel that you had never before imagined. God graciously hides all but the minimum amount of truth from us at first so that we are not condemned by being exposed to that we do not yet have the capacity to obey. As soon as and as often as we obey what we have, he reveals more. Eventually, when our faith and trust in him becomes unshaken, we begin obeying what he reveals immediately when he reveals it. Though this does not mean he reveals all remaining truth in this sphere to us at once, it does mean that he can do it faster than before, because we no longer need to follow the alienation-repentance cycle each time he teaches us something new. Because we retain the spirit, we are able to learn more, faster.

The degree to which we recognize truth is the degree to which we obtain it. The degree to which we lack truth is due solely to the fact that we choose not to recognize it. We obtain truth through heed and diligence (see Alma 12). This means our efforts to seek and apply truth result directly in obtaining more of it. It is fully within our control.

So why don't we all possess all the light and truth God has?

We are all past feeling. 

We use the following scripture to rail against Laman and Lemuel:

Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words; wherefore, he has spoken unto you like unto the voice of thunder, which did cause the earth to shake as if it were to divide asunder. (1 Nephi 17:45)
Ironically, we are much more likely to be like Laman and Lemuel than we are Nephi.

Laman and Lemuel were past feeling. What did that mean? Did it mean they were atheists? No. Laman and Lemuel made frequent mention of God. They claimed to believe in and live the law of Moses. What did it mean, then? Laman and Lemuel only recognized a portion of the light emanating from God. They did not recognize a great deal of what God was offering them. Put a different way, Nephi managed to gain far more light and truth than Laman and Lemuel in spite of the fact that all of them had equal access to the same light and truth.

We are past feeling when we fail to recognize all of the light and truth available to us.

An analogous phrase is "kicking against the pricks." Paul's conversion story is often used to illustrate this principle.

12 Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,
13 At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.
14 And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
15 And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.
16 But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;
17 Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,
18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. (Acts 26)

Was Paul an atheist? No. He was an ultra-faithful Pharisee. What did it mean to kick against the pricks? Did Paul willingly rebel against what he believed was right? No. He faithful obeyed what he believed. He tenaciously, zealously obeyed what he believed. His "kicking against the pricks" consisted in choosing to ignore evidence that further light and truth was available.

Laman, Lemuel, and Paul all committed the same mistake. All three of them had been exposed to individuals possessing further light and truth than they had. Laman and Lemuel were assaulted by constant evidences that their father and brother possessed more light and truth than they did as evidenced by the miraculous experiences had by Lehi and Nephi but not by Laman and Lemuel. Instead of investigating the difference, they ignored it. Paul was surrounded by Christians who were demonstrating powerful gifts from God accompanying their heretical teachings of the Lord Jesus. Instead of investigating it, he actively persecuted them.

When you encounter someone with further light and truth than you have, you should investigate it further. What you will probably do, though, is persecute, ignore, or reject that person.

Spirit reminds us

Because he is gracious, God does not leave us wallowing in ignorance. He directly reveals things to you out of the blue, and he intentionally places people with more light and truth than you in your life. He could do this with fire and earthquakes and neon signs, but that would require him to exercise great judgment when it is ignored or turned away from. Because he is merciful, and because he knows we will fail much more often than succeed, God typically offers us further light and truth ever so gently.

An example of this is provided in the story of the brother of Jared. In this account, the brother of Jared is commanded to build barges to cross the ocean. Because the barges are sealed, he worries about how they will have light. He approaches the Lord with 16 molten balls he had made, small enough to hold all of them in his hands at once. He asks the Lord to touch these stones to make them glow. The Lord touches each one, and in the process the brother of Jared sees one of the Lord's fingers. This shocks the brother of Jared, because he didn't realize that the Lord had the form of a man, and because he understood that seeing the Lord was something that could destroy a man because of man's impurity.

The Lord graciously provided a little bit of revelation by preemptively showing the brother of Jared his finger. The brother of Jared responded by asking for more. He asked the Lord to show himself.

Any LDS-trained person knows this story very well. But they don't know the most important part of the story. Almost at the end of the chapter, this brief verse is given:

For he had said unto him in times before, that if he would believe in him that he could show unto him all things—it should be shown unto him; therefore the Lord could not withhold anything from him, for he knew that the Lord could show him all things. (Ether 3:26)

Apparently, at some point in the past, the Lord had told the brother of Jared that if he would believe in the Lord, the Lord could show him all things. We are not given the account of how or when this happened. I would not be surprised if it was a routine, uneventful story. Yet, this small gem inside of that exchange was sufficient leverage for the brother of Jared to obtain an in-the-flesh visit of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is how the Lord usually offers us further light and truth: through slight, imperceptible exchanges that will fly right past us if we are not paying attention.

Nephi noticed and leveraged his father's prophetic dream to obtain a dream of his own. The brother of Jared leveraged the Lord's promise to show him anything to see the Lord. David leveraged the Lord's strength in helping him kill a bear and a lion to help him kill Goliath. The list goes on and on.

We can be shown these seemingly little things and choose to ignore them, or we can pay attention to them and work against our being past feeling.

One example of this in my life was when, as an LDS missionary, I met a spirit-filled man in a remote area in Chile. He had his own very small church. He agreed to meet with me, and we had spirit-charged conversations about the gospel. I gave him a book of Mormon, which he read, and which he testified contained the word of God. Yet, when he prayed about joining the LDS church, the Lord told him not to. When he relayed this to me, the Spirit told me that what he said was true: he really had prayed, and God had really told him no. I was completely perplexed by this, but I did not pursue it. I had missed an opportunity to come out of ignorance.

Another story came when I was praying about my brother's impending deployment to Iraq. He was headed there in the first wave of troops, and the Spirit had witnessed to me that he would be killed. I spent hours every night for weeks and weeks praying for his safety. Following the Spirit, I offered prayers that were very unusual for me. At one point, the Lord told me to stop praying about it. He spoke with an audible voice, and told me that everything would be fine. I didn't know what that meant, but I was filled with peace and stopped praying about it. A little while later, I managed to talk to my brother on the phone. According to his account (he is not a religious person), his platoon got into a firefight where he was saved from being shot by being shoved to the ground by angel. He was shoved down with such force that his foot broke. That day, dozens of his platoon were killed, but he survived.

I did not know it at the time, but these were prayers of intercession. I should have asked God about what made those prayers different, and how it all worked. I didn't. Instead, I went my merry, ignorant way for years and years before rediscovering intercession. That topic, which I now understand, is described in my recent book "Seek Ye This Jesus." By failing to investigate this topic, I wasted years of miraculous intervention in the lives of others, and incredible communion with God.

24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.
25 These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you.
26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14)

God is gracious. When he reveals something to you, and you blow it, he will give you another chance to receive it. That is the good news. The bad news is what opportunities have permanently been lost, and that it can take weeks, months, or years to be offered to you again.